From paper to pragmatic politics: Where the intellectuals and good people need to integrate – Fola Daniel Adelesi.

Over the years in Nigeria and some other countries of the world, it has become extremely difficult for intellectuals and really good people to make it into the mainstream politics. When I say intellectuals I am referring to people who are sound enough to know the ‘root cause’ of problems in the country and they also have short, medium and long term solutions. When I say good people I am referring to those who may not know so much but when given a chance, they will bring on board all the right people and will ensure the national treasury does not become the exclusive reserve of a few gluttonous and discombobulated capitalists and elites.

For years we have wondered why it is so difficult for intellectuals armed with solutions and good people with great hearts for the nation to get into many strategic positions where they can influence things for good. These people can turn things around for good in a short time but they are hardly given the chance to do so. Sadly, it will be hard to find anyone who has crookedly ascended to power that will be willing to give it to any intellectual or good person.

I think one of the mistakes of the intellectuals and good people, just like many youths around the world who are aspiring to political office, is to wait for someone to transfer power to them. I once said in a paper written years back that ‘power is not ceded. Power is taken.’ Until we understand this, we will not be able to take out the thugs, criminals, empty heads and the likes who climb easily to high offices and then dictate what has to be done to all of us. Let me quickly say that the idea of this paper is not to talk about taking out everyone perceived not to be good or seen as an intellectual. Sometimes, the not too good people are needed in politics.

Why is it that only those who will steal or get to power and not do the right thing are the ones who are getting to the most sensitive positions? Why is it so difficult for intellectuals and good people who will fix this nation to get into strategic positions? A few of these people we are talking about have made it to positions of authority before but still didn’t make significant impact. When they are there, the society makes excuses for them and say things like, ‘oh he has good intentions but is surrounded by bad people.’

I think there are a few problems that have nothing to do with the state of the nation but the unbalanced perspective of the intellectuals. One of the reasons good people don’t make it into politics is also the problem with good people. I will come to that shortly. Nigeria and several other nations have their problems. I understand there can be political apathy in the nation. There can be ballot box snatching and it may be easy for some corrupt government officials to buy over the needed votes. The voting process and the officials of the government agency conducting the election may be compromised but those are not the hindrances to getting the intellectuals into power.

Let me use some case studies in Nigeria but please note that I don’t want this piece to be restricted to Nigeria in any way. It’s just that my point will be valid using a system that I understand to a great extent. I shall also make brief references to instances in the United States.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was an intellectual and a good person at the same time. His works in the South West, Nigeria speak for him till date even though he passed on thirty years ago. He built the 25 storey building called Cocoa house. He built the first television station in Africa then known as WNTV and now part of the NTA network of stations. He initiated free education as a major campaign promise and indeed sent several people to school at no cost to the beneficiaries of the free education. In fact, the government of the then western region which comprised 6 states today gave allowances to beneficiaries of its free education after paying tuition. Awolowo wanted to be president of Nigeria after so much work at the regional level that can be taken across the nation but he never became the president. Some people even refer to him as the best president Nigeria never had.

After Chief Obafemi Awolowo, we have had several other people who gave the presidency a shot. The famous human right activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi wanted to be president. Many Nigerians know that this legal luminary would have done well as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He started the National Conscience Party for this purpose. The party is still existing but with nearly insignificant impact. While there is nothing wrong with starting a political party to get to strategic political office, I think it is a clog in the wheel for many intellectuals and good people. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There is an existing party and you can intelligently integrate in ordert to you their own party to ride to power.

Integrating with existing parties is what some intellectuals don’t want. They keep saying those parties are messed up. They are all corrupt. They stole and are still stealing from us. Well, I don’t disagree. They are truly stealing but it is not everyone in those parties that is stealing. It would be a fallacy of hasty generalisation to say that everyone in some political parties steal just because we have seen a few mentioned and paraded on TV as they were dragged to court to be prosecuted for corrupt practices.

We’ve had a few brilliant examples of people joining them to ride to power and making a difference. It is indeed possible to join them, save your self the stress of looking for resources to set up political offices in nearly all the 36 states of the country.

As intellectuals, we haven’t proven in any way that we are smarter than these street politicians. They have proven smarter by always winning elections and we always sound smarter when it is time to talk, usually before, during and after elections. It is time to take a different turn.

We have had a few people who stood out by joining these street politicians. Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, the immediate past Governor of Lagos State and now Minister for Power, Works and Housing did an excellent job as Governor. I lived in an area where I was born into. Our road wasn’t too bad but there was a river that would overflow at a time of the year. For several years, the residents of the community, including the famous Prophet Dr. T.O Obadare who is now late, wrote series of letters to many governors and nothing happened. When the water overflows, residents would have to cross the water using canoes. Sometimes, there were accidents and people died in the water.

When Governor Fashola came, he didn’t only build a bridge which was the expectation of the people, he contrusted a road link the entire strectch of the area. There are many other good works on record for this gentle man. The same can be said for Governor Peter Obi who was at Anambra. He drastically cut down government expenses when he was the Governor. If these people had decided to start a political party in order to contest, I am not sure, even though I can’t say it is impossible, that they would have made it to those positions. It was easier for them to ride to power on existing parties.

I haven’t said you should not start a party. I only want you to be smarter. Think of what it costs to register a political party and have and office in six geo political zones. Think about the cost of mobilisation in those zones and for effectiveness, what it costs to have a party secretariate in thirty six states. I think we should smartly engage existing platforms till we fill them with good people who are also sound.

We must come up with good people who are also sound because it is not enough to be good or just be sound alone. The many intellectuals who have aspired to political office with little or no impact, in my view, wasted so much time and resources trying to set up a party. We can change things faster by joining their party.

I remember Professor Pat Utomi also gave the Presidency a shot. Professor Uto
mi’s resume can be overwhelming among intellectuals and in the academic space. He has some serious solutions for Nigeria especially with balancing trade payment. One of his strongest propositions was for Nigeria to strike a deal with car manufacturing companies. We have rubber in abundance in Nigeria. He feels we should agree to be the sole manufacturer of tyres for some automobile manufacturers and with that, we will jack up our export and reduce dependence on proceeds from oil. Brilliant idea! He Also contested via the platform of one of the not too famous parties and didn’t win the election.

From the much younger generation, we have had Mr. Nuhu Ribadu. After an arguably remarkable performance as the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one would have thought that a nation interested in fighting corruption will root for him to win the presidential election on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria. That was even a fairly famous party. The party which has merged with others to become All Progressives Congress had some good standing, though seen as a regional party at the time and dominant in the South West of Nigeria. His running mate, Mr. Fola Adeola is co-founder of one of the new generation banks. He has built strong institutions even with a government agency. Their combination would have fought corruption and built strong institutions. Nigeria needs that. Sadly, they also lost the election.

Finally on the intellectuals and good people, we have President Muhamadu Buhari who contested three elections on the platform of different parties before finally emerging as President in the 2015 elections on the platform of All Progressives Congress, the strongest opposition party at the time. After his victory, I immediately wrote a piece on doggedness. He won not because he was dogged though he would not have won if he didn’t remain dogged.

In all the previous elections President Buhari contested, he was making all the mistakes of the intellectuals and good people. He was, like many others, playing paper politics. What again do I mean when I refer to paper politics?

With paper politics, you have all the good ideas well articulated. You know clearly what you want to do, where it will be done and where. With paper politics you have a good team and an excellent execution strategy if given the chance to lead the nation. The problem with this is the fact that with paper politics, your presentations don’t resonate with the public. The majority don’t want to hear beautiful ideas. The society wants instant gratification and hope that continues after the election. That’s where I think Dr. Kayode Fayemi missed it and lost his reelection bid in Ekiti state to Mr. Ayodele Fayose, a former governor of the state and highly controversial character. Fayose won through what is called stomach infrastructure and money bags. Revelations were made later about how the immediate past President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, released money belonging to Nigerians and using men of the Nigerian Army to intimidate opposition and ultimately win the election. Fayose went out sharing foods. People were hungry so they voted for him. We, as good people and intellectuals, can continue to tell people not to mortgage their future or sell votes. While we are busy dissuading people from what they are used to, the street politicians are getting things done.

I honestly don’t like a lot of the things that happen during elections. Many of those things should stop and I am not asking our intellectuals to go and do that. However, we are losing elections. Street politicians are winning and running the country down. They are looting treasury while we are speaking grammer and writing books. We get on stage and deliver speeches that don’t deliver votes. We convince prospective voters permanently glued to their TVs without a Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to deliver votes that count as against pledged votes simply for popularity and perceived acceptance.

Our intellectuals and good people leave out some people they should engage when contesting elections. Those are the people that determine the election results. Sadly, its not the elites, intellectuals or well travelled folks of the country that determine the election results. Its the folks as the garage, mechanics at the auto workshops, spare part dealers, market women and many others who are told what to do that often determine election results. The large population in these category is uneducated folks and a lot of hungry people. In most countries as it is in Nigeria, voting patterns are predetermined. You want to win an election, there’s what to do to swipe the voting pattern in your favour.

The good people and intellectuals ignore the voting patterns and that’s one of the reasons they lose elections without putting up a good fight. For example in Nigeria, to win an election, you must remember we have six geo political zones. The zones are divided as follows with the states under them:

North Central 
Federal Capital Territory

North East:

North West:

South East:

South South:
Akwa Ibom
Cross River

South West:

To win an election, you will be displaying a good knowledge of the voting patterns if you focus on winning the entire northern states and geo political zones with at least another zone in the south. In the 1999 general elections, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo won the election by collaborating with the north and sweeping the South West. In 2011, President Buhari lost the election by focusing primarily on his goodwill in the north though he had a running mate from South West. President Jonathan won the same election by covering South West, South South and South East while claiming a few states in the North.

The largely uninformed population in the North who are also sometimes misled by their educated leaders gave them the impression that Buhari had won the election in 2015 and that the election was rigged. That’s because too many heard the results in the North where Buhari was leading and didn’t understand how he lost. This led to some post election crisis. I was in the North at the time with my wife and when things got serious, we escaped by going to sleep over in an office and then made our way to the airport the following morning in order to catch the first flight to Lagos.

Fast forward to 2015 when President Jonathan was voted out and President Buhari voted in. President Buhari won most northern states and covered the South West. He only lost one state out of six in the South West. So winning an election is predictable when you see the regions you have reliably covered. This is same even in the United States. Some States are referred to as Red States and some as Blue states. Sadly, Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential elections in America also seemed to focus on the intellectuals and the goodwill with the media and the rest of the world. Donal Trump came as the underdog who was largely defined as inexperienced. His campaign was messed up with a number of scandals but he still won to the surprise of many. Even the American system was shocked.

Another voting pattern is that the folks from South West are predominantly intellectuals. They have the highest number of educated folks but their votes alone don’t determine any election. Folks from the South West always go with another region in order to win an election. They follow reasons when voting and you need to be able to convince them. It’s a lot of work to convince these set of people. As for the northern voters, speaking their language is important. Winning over their religious leaders and other influential leaders count. Once someone they res
pect speaks for you, there are strong chances of becoming popular and sweeping votes in any election. Any other geo political zone that partners or collaborates with all the geo political zones in the North is almost certain to win any election in Nigeria.

While there are many more underground work being done during the campaigns, the intellectuals and good people focus on surface popularity. Our other guys do the dirty jobs. They hold long and endless meetings with various interest groups. They travel extensively and even get into the creeks during the day and at night.

Let me save all the mistakes and go to what President Buhari did differently that got him the needed votes. It is what the intellectuals and good people can work with and change the face of politics for good in Nigeria. What can intellectuals learn from his victory?
Platform – Many intellectuals lose because they don’t have a strong platform. If you have to win a major and strategic election, you need a great platform to win. Starting your own platform is good but not many of us will be pathfinders. Some pathfinders have done the much needed work with building strong platforms and I suggest intellectuals be humble enough to glean or leverage on that platform. Buhari kept trying until he left his platforms and merged with All Progressives Congress (APC).

Alliances – Alliance is one of the greatest mistakes of good people and intellectuals. That’s a strong reason elections are lost. On the surface, it looks like you just need to canvass for vote and you’ll win elections. You need strategic alliances. The alliance of Buhari with Tinubu is something he’ll never forget. Professor Yemi Osinbajo, our current Vice President is an intellectual. He is a professor of law and was attorney general of Lagos State. We know he is a good person who transformed the judiciary in Lagos State. However, he did not become the Vice President without a strong alliance with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State. It was a similar alliance that brought Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola into power as Governor in Lagos State.

Funding – Funding is what so many intellectuals and good people complain about. If you work and walk your way up on established platforms, funding becomes easier compared to having to run your campaign yourself with little support from friends and family. There is hardly enough funding to run campaigns on national television and radio daily for the period of campaign. There is hardly enough money to travel and cover the entire length and breath of Nigeria and in a short time. The other large parties that intellectuals want to dissociate from can cover a few states in a day because they have enough money to hire private jets or helicopters to do the job.

Popularity – The reason popularity is pivotal to winning is not because of you but because of the platform and voting system we currently have in Nigeria. When people go to the polls, they don’t see names on the ballot papers. It’s the names of the popular parties they start looking for. Since people will look for the icons of popular parties and yours may not be popular, you slim your chances of winning.

Marketing mix – Now that’s from communication and I am a student of communication. With marketing mix, the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket got it right in 2015. They did an excellent job in my opinion. While Buhari was busy meeting with strong opinion leaders, Osinbajo was busy with town hall meetings. Social Media was agog and the street was being combed daily. With their strategy, they connected the old and young. The educated and uneducated were engaged. Opinion leaders were connected and youths did a lot of grassroot work. To win an election you have to communicate in different ways and reach out to everyone. You can’t speak to only the people you think you easily connect with via one medium and hope to win.

To win an election, there are systems you can’t change no matter how good you are. When you have won the election, you may be able to change several things through policies and legislations. Intellectuals and good people who have now shifted to what I call internet or social media politics need to wake up. You don’t win elections with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram only. Elections are won on the streets. Let’s do the paper work to get things right and also hit the streets to win the people. There’s a system out there that is established and arguably unbeatable. You don’t have to beat them by starting another political party. You can leverage their platforms to beat them. Let’s stop disturbing ourselves by thinking we are smarter than these street guys. They may not look smart but often prove to be smarter with their results. That’s how they outsmart us while we’re still wondering what hit us like a bomb.

Plans on paper look good but we have to wake up, roll sleeves and get things done. Do you want to change this nation or any other nation of the world? Stop dreaming and speaking grammar alone. Get out and get things done.

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